Game theory and rational decision

Erkenntnis 47 (3):379-410 (1997)
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Abstract

In its classical conception, game theory aspires to be a determinate decision theory for games, understood as elements of a structurally specified domain. Its aim is to determine for each game in the domain a complete solution to each player's decision problem, a solution valid for all real-world instantiations, regardless of context. "Permissiveness" would constrain the theory to designate as admissible for a player any conjecture consistent with the function's designation of admissible strategies for the other players. Given permissiveness and other appropriate constraints, solution sets must contain only Nash equilibria and at least one pure-strategy equilibrium, and there is no solution to games in which no symmetry invariant set of pure-strategy equilibria forms a Cartesian product. These results imply that the classical program is unrealizable. Moreover, the program is implicitly committed to permissiveness, through its common-knowledge assumptions and its commitment to equilibrium. The resulting incoherence deeply undermines the classical conception in a way that consolidates a long series of contextualist criticisms.

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Julius Sensat
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee